HAGERSTOWN -- Just one year ago, players on the Wilde Lake boys soccer team could only dream about getting back to the state playoffs. An ego-deflating 2-7-2 season all but erased the memory of the team's 1991 state title and made winning seem like a distant memory.
But after last night's 2-1 win over Hereford in the Class 1A state semifinals at South Hagerstown High School, the Wildecats once again are clearing room in their trophy case.
Wilde Lake, seeded third, advances to next Saturday's Class 1A state title game at Old Mill at 2:30 p.m., where it will meet top seed Easton, a 3-1 winner over Clear Spring in the other semifinal.
For Wilde Lake fifth-year coach Dave Nesbitt, there was seldom any doubt.
"Last year was a long year, but the seniors this year believed in themselves," said Nesbitt. "I think they made up their minds that they weren't going to go out without a fight."
The Wildecats (9-4-2) showed some of that fight during the first 70 minutes last night, using their superior ball-handling and athletic ability to control play and take a 2-0 lead on goals by Gian Paolo Einaudi and Alex Kolliegbe.
Hereford, though, made a game of it in the final minutes, cutting the lead to 2-1 on a goal by Paul DiAngelo with 12:25 to go and continuing to pepper the Wilde Lake goal for the remainder of the game.
But the story line for the Bulls (11-3-1) was missed opportunities. Hereford -- which outshot Wilde Lake 15-14 -- was unable to convert on at least a half-dozen prime scoring chances, four of which came in an otherwise listless first half.
Each missed opportunity seemed to take some life out of the Hereford players.
"We were a little flat in the first half, and I think that not scoring those goals hurt us," said Hereford first-year coach John Mackert. "We really got going after we scored the goal, but we just ran out of time. I wish we could've had 15 more minutes."
Three of the Bulls' best scoring chances came in the final 20 minutes of the game.
First, Chris Mackert's long liner from the left side bounced off the far corner of the crossbar. Then, after scoring Hereford's goal, Matt Saunders sailed a high arching throw-in toward a cluster of players in front of the Wildecats' goal, but keeper John Beakes caught it.
With less than two minutes left, the Bulls' final opportunity fell short when Matt Saunders sent a crossing pass through the goal mouth and clear across the field without a player touching it.
"We didn't play very hard in the last 10 minutes," said Wilde Lake's Kolliegbe. "They just kept putting pressure on us."